On June 28 and 29, General Committee 2 held its second General Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The first such convention held since the merger of General Committees 1 and 2, this marked an important milestone: honoring and enacting the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department’s commitment to union democracy under the SMART Constitution.

Thirty-two delegates from 20 local unions were present for the purposes of electing General Committee 2 leadership, voting on changes to the bylaws, and discussing union and industry business more generally. The results of the elections reflect the department’s unity: both Directing General Chairperson John McCloskey and Financial Secretary-Treasurer/Assistant General Chairperson Jason Busolt were reelected to their roles by acclamation. Elections for other positions in General Committee 2 were also a success. Executive board members elected include Keith Petrie (Local 139), Matthew Haile (Local 78), Troy Weakland (Local 472), Craig Tallini (Local 149), Joe Persaud (Local 396), Marcus Williams (Local 363), George Jeffers (Local 462), Bill Scalia (Local 526) and Jose Navarrete (Local 209). Finally, Brian Opland (Local 165), Kevin Downing (Local 363), John Daly (Local 526) and Tom Kennedy (Local 367) were elected trustees.

General Chairperson McCloskey was proud to see such a strong interest in union democracy and was impressed by the presence of international union leaders.

“It was such a huge honor to have four presidents attend our convention,” he noted. “With so many SMART International staff in attendance, it showed the delegates that General President Coleman is committed to our department. The delegates have elected a very strong executive board, and being the best representatives for our members will be a priority. We look forward to serving our members going forward.”

During the convention, delegates also heard presentations on Railroad Retirement, FELA, insurance benefits and other topics relevant to railroaders. SMART’s Communications and Organizing Departments also gave presentations on applying their resources and expertise to the needs of RME members.

RME International Rep. Joe Fraley reflected enthusiastically on the success of the convention: “It was great to have all our local unions united in solidarity as we forge ahead together. I cannot recall ever having so many strong local union leaders ready to take on the challenges of the railroad industry. This is our time.”

International Representative Peter Kennedy is the newest addition to the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department.

Brother Kennedy started his railroad career in September 2003 in the Maintenance of Way Department of CSX Transportation and has been a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) of the Brotherhood of Teamsters for 20 years.

Kennedy is an experienced labor relations practitioner and strategist and has a knack for special projects. Most recently, he served as director of strategic coordination and research at BMWED, a position in which he oversaw major projects and initiatives impacting railroaders, including presenting the union’s case before Presidential Emergency Board 250, implementing the National Paid Sick Leave for Railroad Workers Campaign, and creating a memorandum of understanding on Brightline West for the High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition.

International Representative Joe Fraley, whose experience working with Kennedy was instrumental for this recruitment, is extremely enthusiastic about the new hire.

“I have worked with Peter Kennedy throughout the last two rounds of national negotiations and on several other committees including CRLO, which jointly administers the Railroad National Healthcare Plan,” Fraley said. “He is a dedicated union leader who puts the members first. He is a great addition to our team.”

Likewise, General Committee 2 leadership is eager to work with Brother Kennedy and make use of his fresh perspective.

“Peter’s reputation in our industry is second to none,” said Directing General Chairperson John McCloskey. “The local officers and members of General Committee 2 will benefit so much from his knowledge and dedication.”

Financial Secretary-Treasurer Jason Busolt echoed that sentiment: “We look forward to working with him and utilizing his expertise when it comes to many different areas of the railroad. Welcome aboard, Peter!”

For outgoing International Representative Larry Holbert, Brother Kennedy’s recruitment ensures the department is in competent hands.

“Without any hesitation, I am so confident of a successful future for this department and for the entire union with the assignment of Brother Peter Kennedy,” Holbert said. “I have had the opportunity to work with Peter on numerous occasions, and I am truly impressed with his professionalism and knowledge of this industry.”

Finally, having recently become a member of SMART Local 256 (Chicago, Ill.), Kennedy is eager to show his commitment to his new role. In his own words: “I look forward to interacting with every member at every railroad across the country and getting to know what is important to them. This is our time to renew the meaning of SMART’s work and improve the workplace. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve and represent the members of the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department.”

This issue’s Rail, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department Report is from International Representative Larry Holbert:

During my 40-plus years as a railroader, I have always sought out opportunities to participate in my union, not only in the General Committee or at the International level, but also at my local union. As a lot of you have heard me say: At every level of our organization, we are only as strong as our local unions. While I’ve certainly seen a lot of changes in the last 40 years, this is one thing that has not changed — the local anchors us both to our fellow members and to our craft.

Attending local meetings over the years, I have always been fascinated when looking at each union’s original charter and reading the names and signatures of the brothers and sisters who drew on said charters to establish our locals, hold the first elections of officers and join their fellow workers in the International. The work confronting these past members required their commitment and dedication: They built their locals to be financially responsible, they drafted and adopted bylaws to govern their affairs, and they eagerly trained on their obligations at the International and on compliance with the law, learning to navigate the Department of Labor, IRS and various other regulatory agencies. Most importantly, they chose who they wanted to enforce their contracts, settle grievances, protect the rights of their members and ensure their work jurisdiction — electing their officers and, when necessary, stepping up to serve in elected roles.

The strength of our locals and the directions they have taken have always been determined by the consensus reached by membership when a local met — it was not just three or four members at meetings making decisions for the rest! Participation in one’s local not only helps members to look out for and support each other, but also builds a stronger and more resilient workforce and protects our trade. You might decide that you have better things in life to do than to attend a meeting, but when you find yourself injured on the job or terminated for not having your PPE on, you’re hoping a fellow member will be there to lend a hand. Or when the carrier gets the idea to remove all the sheet metal workers from the service tracks, you’re hoping you’ll have all your local brothers and sisters there to prove that it’s you and your fellow workers who make the trains run — not dangerous and cynical cost-saving measures.

Brothers and sisters, you need to get involved in your union, you need to serve as officers and continue getting educated; without dedicated officers, there would be no union to speak of. It’s easy to blame our current issues on past officers, but in my opinion, all it comes down to is the proper filing of claims and grievances and to the good retention of documents. Railroad workers have an excellent and effective process for handling claims and grievances under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act. Although I fully agree that nowadays this is much harder than it used to be — with the carriers assigning “labor relation experts” with very limited knowledge of the work we do to respond to our grievances — this only proves that now is the time for our local union leaders, armed with all the training and support that has been made available, to help build competitive and strong locals that are able to stand up to the carriers.

Local officers are the ones who are in the shops every day; they alone can see whether or not a contract is being lived up to, not your general chairperson and not the International. There are a lot of opportunities in this department to change things. We’re just waiting for you to get involved.

On Thursday, March 23 – after 15 months of negotiations – the TCU & Shop-Craft Coalition reached a tentative agreement with Amtrak to settle each organization’s respective Section 6 notices for this round of bargaining. The coalition is comprised of the SMART Mechanical Department (MD), the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), National Conference of Firemen & Oilers SEIU 32BJ (NCFO), International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Transport Workers Union (TWU), American Railway Airline Supervisor Association (ARASA), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB) and the Transportation Communications Union (TCU).

“We appreciate the patience of our members, and we will be providing all the details of this great agreement,” the coalition said in a press release announcing the agreement.

The specific terms of the agreement have been approved by the Amtrak Board of Directors; the details will be presented to SMART MD members for ratification in the coming weeks. This article will be updated.

On November 15, 2022, the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department, in conjunction with General Committee 2, held its first in-person local representative training class in more than two years. The training, which was revamped in 2022, focuses on claim/grievance and discipline handling. Seventeen attendees representing 13 local unions attended the day-long training, which outlined the responsibilities of the local representative and provided guidance for filing claims/grievances and preparing for and representing members during discipline investigations.

The response from attendees was positive. “The training was very informative,” said Chuck Mullins from Metro North in Harmon, New York.

Rex Moore from BNSF in Lincoln, Nebraska, added that “the training was great.”

The RME Department has increased its training budget in order to expand the number and frequency of trainings in 2023 and beyond. “Our goal is to provide this training on an ongoing basis for current and newly elected local representatives,” said SMART International Representative Joe Fraley.

International Representative Larry Holbert agreed, saying: “We are committed to providing future training to our local leaders, making sure that they have the knowledge, tools and skills necessary to perform their elected duties more effectively and efficiently.”

The RME Department has scheduled a training session in January on the West Coast for representatives in California, as well as a class in the Northeast in February. The third training session will be scheduled in the third quarter of the year, giving newly elected officers the opportunity to attend.

“This training is the cornerstone for our local reps, as they are the men and women on the front lines representing the membership on a daily basis,” explained General Chairperson John McCloskey. “All of our local unions are urged to participate in the training that is provided,” concluded General Committee 2 Financial Secretary- Treasurer/Assistant General Chairperson Jason Busolt. “As elected officers, it is our duty to ensure that we provide the highest level of representation to the men and women we represent.”

Members of the SMART Rail, Mechanical and Engineering Department (MD) working for Union Tank Car Company (UTLX) in Valdosta, Georgia rallied for an informational picket on Friday, November 4 — demonstrating their solidarity and showing their willingness to fight for better working conditions. SMART MD is currently negotiating a new contract at UTLX; one that will address jobsite safety, proper training and more.

“The workers took a stand in solidarity and sent a clear message to the company that they will stand in support of each other as we work toward reaching an agreement worthy of ratification,” said Joe Fraley, SMART MD international representative. “Our internal committee has done an exceptional job growing the strength of this unit.”

The primary reason UTLX employees rallied, Fraley explained, was to demand fair treatment. UTLX has refused to reward seniority for common items such as bidding vacation or job openings and has resisted considering seniority when performing workforce reductions. Additionally, employees say, the company cuts corners and bends and breaks safety policies and procedures, putting profit over the well-being of its workers. Training, as well, is a huge issue for UTLX employees: Workers say that the company regularly directs recent hires — who have little to no experience — to train new workers, perpetuating the lack of focus on safety.

“These workers deserve and are ready to demand better,” Fraley said.

They did just that on November 4. Brandishing signs that read “Strike For Safety,” “I’m A Whistleblower,” “Don’t Lie to OSHA,” “Fair Contract Now” and more, the workers gathered at the UTLX gate, sending a strong message to the company and passing drivers.

SMART commends these workers for refusing to back down in the face of unfair treatment, and we will continue to stand with members working at UTLX as they negotiate the contract they have earned!

October 12, 2022 — The membership of the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART MD) has voted to ratify a tentative agreement with the carriers, after almost three years of negotiations between the union and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC). The vote was passed with a 54% margin in favor of the negotiated contract.

The ratified contract includes historic wage increases, five annual service recognition payments, an additional paid day off and enhanced healthcare benefits. Members will immediately receive a 13.5% wage increase, and members will also receive retroactive pay and $3,000 in service recognition payments within 60 days.

“It was up to our members to decide whether to accept this agreement, and the members have made the decision to ratify a contract with the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national freight rail bargaining,” said Joseph Sellers, Jr., general president of SMART. “However, we hear the concerns of our members who may be disappointed in the outcome of this vote, and I promise that we will never stop fighting to ensure that they receive the wages, benefits and working conditions that they deserve for keeping the American economy running.”

September 11, 2022 — SMART’s Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (Mechanical Department or MD) reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which includes the highest wage increases ever achieved in national freight rail bargaining. The tentative agreement provides our members with a 24% general compounded wage increase over five years. In addition, members would receive five annual service recognition payments of $1,000. Upon ratification, our members, including our retired and deceased members, will receive full retroactive pay consisting of the wage increases and service recognition payments.

Furthermore, the tentative agreement will provide an additional paid day off that can be used as either a personal leave day, a vacation day or on the employee’s birthday. Our healthcare benefits were enhanced to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder and an increase in hearing aid benefits. There are no work rule changes or cuts to our healthcare benefits. The tentative agreement also includes a “Me Too” provision, where if another union reaches an agreement that provides more economic value, we can receive that same value in our agreement. The tentative agreement was reached based on the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board 250.

SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated, “After nearly three years of difficult and protracted negotiations with the carriers, I’m very pleased that our Mechanical Department members are receiving the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national bargaining. Contrary to what the carriers may say, our highly skilled members’ contributions are the reason for the carriers’ extremely high profits, and it’s about time that our members receive the fair contract that we have been fighting for, and that the carriers have been fighting against, for the past several years.”

Ratification ballots will be mailed to SMART MD freight rail members soon. While SMART MD was able to reach a tentative agreement, the Transportation Division is still negotiating with the NCCC. General President Sellers calls on the NCCC to resolve the attendance policies and working conditions impacting operating employees in order to provide a better quality of life for our brothers and sisters in the Transportation Division.

February 28, 2022 — By letter dated February 24, 2022, the rail bargaining coalition made up of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference and the Mechanical Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Union petitioned the National Mediation Board (NMB) for a proffer of arbitration, requesting to be released from further mediation sessions. If granted by the NMB, the proffer of arbitration is the next step in the process towards self-help and a potential Presidential Emergency Board to settle their contract dispute with the nation’s rail carriers.

The Coordinated Bargaining Coalition (CBC) unions, which are likewise in negotiations with the same rail carriers, support the BMWED/SMART Mechanical request to be released from mediation and agree that the parties are at an impasse and should be allowed to move the contract dispute to the next steps of the Railway Labor Act’s negotiation process. Although the CBC Unions are also in mediation with their next NMB-mediated bargaining session scheduled in March, the CBC made it clear to the NMB upon entering mediation that there is little, if any, hope of reaching a voluntary agreement in light of the rail carriers’ refusal to bargain in good faith with any of the rail unions. Therefore, the CBC fully expects to be making the same request for a release, and once all rail unions are released from mediation, the CBC will stand alongside the BMWED/SMART Mechanical Coalition through the final steps of the Railway Labor Act negotiation process to bring the bargaining round to a successful conclusion.

A copy of BMWED/SMART Mechanical’s February 23, 2022, letter to the National Mediation Board can be found by clicking here.

The unions comprising the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition are: the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen / Teamsters Rail Conference (BLET); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS); the International Association of Machinists (IAM); the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB); the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU (NCFO); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); the Transportation Communications Union / IAM (TCU), including TCU’s Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (BRC); and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD).

Collectively, the CBC unions represent more than 105,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements, and comprise over 80% of the workforce who will be impacted by this round of negotiations.